The end is near!

Whaoo! I am back for the final installment of what did Catherine do back in August and September.

When I last blogged I said I was headed to Montreal for my annual visit. Much of it looked like this.

Then I hung out with a bunch of college friends for geekend and it looked a lot like this.

Then I headed back to Portland, OR for a quick weekend visit with my roommate from 1996-ish and an emotional reunion with my car.

From Portland (for my New England friends it’s the one in Oregon) I headed farther west to check out the coast and see the rain forest of Olympic National Park. Yet again, I unwittingly found myself on the Lewis and Clark trail at Cape Disappointment. For someone who was not consciously following Lewis and Clark, I found myself on their Trail many, many times.

“In 1788, while in search of the Columbia River, English Captain John Meares missed the passage over the river bar and named the nearby headland Cape Disappointment for his failure in finding the river. In 1792, American Captain Robert Gray successfully crossed the river bar and named the river Columbia after his ship…. Only a few years later, in 1805, the Lewis and Clark Expedition arrived at Cape Disappointment. The Cape Disappointment Lighthouse was constructed in 1856 to warn seamen of the treacherous river bar known… as the graveyard of the Pacific. This is the oldest functioning lighthouse on the West Coast.” –

From the Cape I zipped up the coast and got a good feel for a temperate rain forest in Olympia National Park. Lots of ocean views and big trees along the way, plus the town of Queets, the name of which I enjoy greatly.

After dipping my toe in this region, I headed to Mount Rainier National Park – it took me awhile to get to the park but I could see the mountain from a long ways off. The sub-alpine meadows were lovely (I cannot imagine how amazing they must look in bloom) and the mountain was majestic.

See Mt. Rainier in the background?

I had a nice hike before I went to my campground. I camped in a lovely spot in the park where I failed to negotiate the automated pay system properly and ended up paying for two spots by mistake. I was saved the huge hassle of getting a refund when I sold the second pass (totally legit!) to a German tourist. Thanks dude!

Next on my list – Mount St. Helens which you may recall had a big eruption in May 1980. Through a relative of a friend, I was given about a tablespoon of that ash which I still have today. Now was time to visit the site where this ash originated. All I can say is – Wow! The drive to the mountain was twisty and turn-y and still showed the effects of the eruption- bowed in some places and other spots with grass growing through the cracks in the asphalt. The magnitude of that eruption is shocking. 36 years later the damage to the landscape is still perfectly visible! I cannot stress enough how awesome the experience of going there was.

“The abrupt release of pressure over the magma chamber created a “nuees ardentes,” a glowing cloud of superheated gas and rock debris blown out of the mountain face moving at nearly supersonic speeds. Everything within eight miles of the blast was wiped out almost instantly. The shockwave rolled over the forest for another 19 miles, leveling century-old trees; all the trunks neatly aligned to the north. Beyond this “tree down zone” the forest remained standing but was seared lifeless.

Blasted Area

The area devastated by the direct blast force covered an area of nearly 230 square miles.  Shortly after the lateral blast, a second, vertical explosion occurred at the summit of the volcano, sending a mushroom cloud of ash and gases more than 12 miles into the air. The cloud of ash darkened the skies, causing streetlights to come on as far away as Spokane, Wash., more than 300 miles away. Ash continued to erupt for more than nine hours. Ultimately, an estimated 540 million tons of ash drifted up to 2,200 square miles settling over seven states…. Fifty-seven people are known to have died. More than 200 homes were destroyed. More than 185 miles of roads and 15 miles of railways were damaged. Ash clogged sewage systems, damaged cars and buildings, and temporarily shut down air traffic over the Northwest.” –

And to make it even more spectacular, I was able to see four big mountains from this one spot – Helens, Hood, Adams and Rainier. Again, wow!

From Mt. Saint Helens I started trekking toward a part of the country I deeply love to travel – the red rock regions of Utah and Colorado. On the way I traveled route 50 through Nevada, it’s nickname is the “Loneliest Road in America”. I think this is a misnomer. From my experience it seemed like the “Boringest Road in America” (oooohh, except for the bobcat I saw – cool!), but I persevered and eventually found myself in red rock territory. On my way West I got my red rock fix in Sedona, AZ and the Grand Canyon area just South of here.

Had an amazing few days when I went to both Bryce and Capitol Reef National Parks on one day, Natural Bridges National Monument and briefly Mesa Verde National Park the next followed by the Great Sand Dunes National Park. Not only were the parks fabulous, but much of the drive between them was as well. I am not going to wax poetic about the red rocks or the bridges – just look at the pictures, they say it all. I will say that a huge sand dune in the middle of a forested area was much, much more interesting than I had anticipated. Kinda boggles the mind really.

Best campground encounter on this leg of my trip: I met Helen (former teacher) age 80 and Hugh (former scientist with English accent) age 90 at a campground 45 minutes East of Durango, CO. They had driven their camper van from Oregon and had to head home the next day to be sure they got back in time to prepare for their trip to Iran & Turkey the following week. When I helped them carry water to their campsite, they invited me to play scrabble with them which I did, and they totally kicked my butt. While playing I learned that they had known each other for decades but had only gotten together as a couple after the deaths of their spouses 7 or 8 years ago. After our game of scrabble, Helen got us small glasses of wine (their evening ritual) and snacks. When I took their leave several hours after I arrived, they sent me off with produce from their garden and my fervent hope that I’ll be just like them in the future.

As I continued Eastward bound, it got hotter and hotter (KS, OK, AR, LA, MS, AL). I was keeping to a Southern route so I could hop into the few states I had left to visit on this trip. Then between Wellington, KS and Broken Bow, OK, I got pulled over for speeding for the first and only time on this trip. In over 23,773 miles of driving that’s not too bad. Best part – I only got a warning. Yay! I finally headed North out of Alabama on the Natchez Trace Parkway where I found a great campground just over the Tennessee border. Little did I know that it was a stones throw away from !SURPRISE! the Meriwether Lewis (you know, from Lewis and Clark fame) monument and gravesite.

Northward took me up through Indiana then Ohio – Boom! 49 states visited with only Delaware remaining. Spent some time driving through Kentucky where they have some lovely state park campgrounds

Campsite visitors

and lodges plus excellent backroads. This lead me back to Tennessee where I met up with my sister from South Carolina for a mini-road trip weekend within my road trip. Then I zipped down to the Chattanooga area to stay in a tiny house – 192 square feet. Why? Um…..’cause Tiny House!! After that I met a super fun couple from NH at the last campground of my trip. As I was ending my journey, they were just beginning theirs – with a dog AND cat no less.

With the end in sight I drove back to Washington, DC (ok, technically Alexandria, VA) and stayed with the friend I’d help move there back in March (remember March?!?!). On Sunday, October 9th we drove to Delaware and I visited the 50th and final state on my amazing adventure that began way, way back on January 21st. THE END!! 🙂

Click the map for more pictures!

Click for lots of pictures of my trip!

Epilogue: I spent much of October and November hanging out in Alexandria and Chester, VA (where my other sister lives).

It’s bigger than my head!

In early November I took another road trip mostly in North Carolina and picked up my niece for part of it. We had a blast.  Don’t worry, I was also thinking about my future and applying for jobs too. I had a few interviews and last week I accepted a position as Regional Assistant Branch Manager in Reston, VA in the Fairfax County Library system. I start in January. It’s an urban library, and I am excited for all the new challenges and to be working within a large team again.

THE END, again!!